Part II: Visiting old friends in Debica and around, May 24-25
Saturday morning started quite early when Keegan's eyes sprang open at 7 a.m. The jet lag must have gotten to him, because usually I'm the one who wakes up annoyingly early. Fortunately for us, Sylwia prepared the most amazing breakfast, complete with grilled cheese sandwiches, breakfast sausages, several different salads, fresh veggies, bread, and coffee and tea. We knew that we wouldn't have to eat again for a long time.
Fortified for the trip, we loaded into the car to drive to Debica. Debica is about an hour's drive from Krakow, and it's the town where I taught English so many years ago. Our first stop on arriving was the apartment of Sylwia's parents. Sylwia's mother, Pani Zosia Wiktor, is a teacher at the school where I also taught, and she is the one who introduced the two of us. She was in the town of Rzeszow, grading high school exit exams, a truly gargantuan task. But Sylwia's father was home and quite busy in the kitchen. Our large breakfast not so far behind us, we sat down to yet another meal. Sylwia's parents are truly fantastic cooks, and their versions of popular Polish dishes are always my favorites. Pan Wiktor prepared some zurek for us, and then warmed some of his wife's delicious pierogi, both with cheese and potato filling and also with mushroom and cabbage, my favorite. After we were truly stuffed on those delicacies, out marched Sylwia's young niece, Justyna, who had been acting as our waitress, with small bowls of bean soup and then with bigos, a stew made from cabbage and sausage. Now almost certainly packed to capacity, we still felt it necessary to sample a few of the cakes that Sylwia had bought from a new bakery in town. Whew!
There was only one thing to do after a meal like this, and that was take a stroll around town. Justyna wanted to come with us, and she amused herself by running, jumping, climbing, and collecting a bouquet of wildflowers for Sylwia. I enjoyed seeing my old haunts again. There were many changes around town. For one thing, the teahouse, or Herbaciarnia where we spent countless hours meeting friends, eating crepes, and gossiping relentlessly, was gone! I was crushed. There was a rumor that it had moved to a new location, but we didn't see the new shop in our wanderings. I saw more new supermarkets in town, which made me a little sad, even though I would have loved the convenience when I was living there. There is a new statue of Pope John Paul II in its own little park, and the old Russian army tank that used to grace a hill in another park is gone. I felt a bit like the town was losing little by little the exotic, unique touches that made living there a real experience for me. I can only wonder how things will look the next time I make it back to Poland.
After our walk, we stopped for drinks at a new restaurant with a pretty outdoor eating area. Poor Justyna was put to work again, this time running up and down the driveway so that Keegan could practice his motion photography. Justyna was a real sweetheart. She is already studying English in school but was too shy to use it in front of us.
Pani Zosia returned from Rzeszow in the evening, so we trooped back to her apartment to share more food and to reminisce about school days. Apparently one of the teachers, Adam, still retains the nickname "One Teacher" (in English) from my days at the school. Most of the teachers are the same, but our old director has retired and been replaced with Joanna Dymitrowska, who was my liaison with the school when I first arrived in Poland. I was happy to hear that she moved up. Pani Zosia heartily approved of Keegan and told me that he was handsome, which I dutifully translated for him.
Finally, it was time to call my friend Jurek, who owns a hotel in Tarnow where we would spend the night. He arrived to pick us up and drive us the 20 minutes or so to the hotel. The last time I was in Poland, the hotel and restaurant were under construction, but now they are complete and luxurious. The hotel is tucked away in a quiet neighborhood and, as Keegan noted, is meticulously furnished and decorated. We shared still more food and some wine with Jurek and his hotel manager, Maria, until we were so stuffed and sleepy that we had to head to bed.
On Sunday we had breakfast at the hotel before Jurek picked us up for a drive to Krynica. Krynica is a spa town in the mountains, about a two-hour drive from Tarnow. I had been there once before at Thanksgiving but was eager to see the town again when it wasn't so cold and snowy. We arrived in Krynica around noon and headed to the town's main pijalnia or drinking house to taste some of the town's renowned mineral water. Although we tried the mildest kind, it was hard to swallow the first sip without making a face - the water is bitter and tastes like, well, minerals, I guess. Blecch. At least we had some apple cake to help it go down a bit easier.
After the mineral water experience, we headed to a nearby ski slope for a little hike. We marched straight up the ski slope - do you realize how steep those are? I'm sure you can get some great speed going down on skis, but walking up on foot, not so much. We were thoroughly winded and drenched in sweat after just a few minutes. Still, the views were gratifying, and we enjoyed each other's company. At the top of the slope, we stopped for some grilled pork and french fries and cold beers and then commenced the trek back down.
After our hike, we took a brief siesta at a brand new hotel nearby. This place was swanky, and the parking lot was full of Audis, Mercedes, and BMWs. They are adding a truly impressive indoor pool overlooking the mountains this year - I was actually kind of surprised at the level of luxury available in Poland now. They are ever more capitalist, I suppose. We enjoyed sipping our tea in the warm sun and gazing at the surrounding mountains.
Jurek was eager to drive us into Slovakia to get a view of the Slovakian Tatra mountains. We rode for probably another hour, along a beautiful river and over a bridge where we easily crossed the border (things are very simple in the EU!) and soon made our way to a ridge with a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately, it was quite hazy (or, as Jurek would say, there was "a lot of smoke") and we couldn't see the tallest mountains. But we were excited about adding another country to our honeymoon trip and about the gorgeous castle we could see overlooking the town. We investigated the castle quickly, learned it was closed for the day, and settled in for the trip back to Tarnow. It was a long ride! By the time we got back, we were ready for a quick dinner, a short photo-sharing session with Jurek (stunning photos of his trip to Havana), and bed.
Pictures to be posted soon...